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Mass. transportation chief promises T improvements

Glen Johnson

The Patrick administration cited safety and customer service concerns in ousting the head of Greater Boston’s mass transit agency, while the state’s transportation secretary last Friday attributed the move to a more generic interest in changing the “status quo.”

With Massachusetts set to enact a wide-ranging transportation overhaul on Nov. 1, state Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr. said the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) needed more dynamic leadership. That meant General Manager Daniel Grabauskas had to go.

“It’s good to have fresh thinking. It’s good to have fresh approaches. It’s good to have fresh ideas,” he said. “Part of reform is changing the status quo.”

Asked whether Grabauskas, a Republican appointee serving in a Democratic administration, resisted change, Aloisi said, “I would say I have had some recent instances where I have found the level of cooperation to be unacceptably poor, but I’m really not interested in getting into the past.”

Grabauskas and a collection of Democratic and Republican backers alleged he was the victim of a purely partisan attack.

Aloisi also absolved the former general manager of any direct responsibility for two Green Line crashes during the past year. The first, a fatal May 2008 accident in Newton, prompted a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member to complain last month that the T lacked “a safety culture.” The second, in May, was blamed on a driver who was distracted while text-messaging his girlfriend.

Both Aloisi, who doubles as chairman of the T’s board of directors, and Gov. Deval Patrick cited that complaint before engineering a $300,000 buyout of Grabauskas’ contract last Thursday.

A day later, Aloisi said: “I am sure the MBTA is safe; that’s not the issue. The question is, can we do a better job? … When the acting head of the NTSB makes the comment he made, it gives one pause.”

Aloisi sought to convey that the administration was moving on since seizing control of the MBTA. The agency’s buses, subway cars and commuter trains service about 1.2 million riders per workday.

The secretary rode a couple of buses and talked to riders in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood, symbolic of the customer service focus he hopes to instill on the T.

Aloisi has complained about construction projects running past schedule and over budget; subway cars without air conditioning; buses that bottlenecked despite global positioning systems intended to separate them and; antiquated maps in such major stations as Copley Square.

“Some of those things cost money; some of those things require fresh ideas and entrepreneurial thinking, and I’m hoping we can bring all those things to the table,” he said last Thursday.

He said William Mitchell, the T’s general counsel, will serve as interim general manager until a replacement is found. Aloisi also suggested any future general manager may have different powers and responsibilities.

Last Friday, he made his first visit to the T’s futuristic Operations Control Center, the scope of his new job apparent when he said, “Wow,” as he looked at a control room full of monitors.

The secretary told reporters another way he wants to better serve customers is by spending an unspecified amount of federal stimulus money so that Silver Line buses can use surface streets to connect directly to South Station.

The station is a hub for Amtrak and regional bus service, but the T has been stalled in trying to build a bus tunnel to the station from the Silver Line’s current terminus several blocks away in Downtown Crossing.

(Associated Press)